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March 4, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Richland County jail inmate’s stomping caused collapsed lung, broken ribs and fractured back, report shows

A homeless man arrested on trespassing charges suffered a collapsed lung, two broken ribs, a fractured vertebrae in his back as well as internal injuries during a prolonged stomping by a Richland County jail guard, authorities said Monday.

A homeless man arrested on trespassing charges suffered a collapsed lung, two broken ribs, a fractured vertebrae in his back as well as internal injuries during a prolonged stomping by a Richland County jail guard, authorities said Monday.

The man, 52, might die of his injuries, said Capt. Chris Cowan, spokesman for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

In addition, the prosecutor’s office is seeking a higher bond on former guard Robin E. Smith, who is free on his word that he will return to court for hearings. Dan Goldberg of the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office said his office has filed a motion seeking a stiffer bond on Smith.

The investigation into the Feb. 11 attack is continuing, authorities said.

Smith, 38, was released Feb. 25 on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond on a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, according to the county’s public relations office. That means Smith did not have to put up any money to be freed but would have to pay to be released a second time should he violate the conditions of the bond.

Smith, a guard at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center for two years, was fired on the day he was freed.

Details of the assault are slowly becoming public. The Sheriff’s Department released the incident report after an open-records request by The State newspaper.

Cowan provided more details Monday about the attack, calling it “prolonged.” But he did not specify how long.

“It included a boot to the head and to the neck,” Cowan said. “A boot strike to the upper body. A boot was pushed into his head and neck as his arm was being pulled.”

When Smith was charged, Sheriff Leon Lott said the inmate had refused to comply with instructions from his jailers, but did not elaborate.

“This person could possibly die as a result of their injuries,” Cowan said, adding that the attack happened in a cell.

The victim was taken to a hospital four days after the stomping, the incident report states.

The inmate, whom the newspaper is not identifying, remained in critical but stable condition Monday at Palmetto Health Richland hospital, Cowan said.

“There are lots of pieces to the puzzle that we’re still trying to put together,” the sheriff’s spokesman said.

The inmate had been seeking shelter in University of South Carolina buildings for more than three years.

USC police Maj. Irick Geary said campus records show the man was found in a basement classroom at the Jones Physical Science building at Greene and Sumter streets in December 2009. He was placed on notice that he was trespassing and warned he could be arrested if he was discovered doing it again, Geary said.

On Feb. 5 of this year, the man was found at 4:25 a.m. inside LeConte College, home to USC’s math and statistics department on the 1500 block of Greene Street. He refused to leave and was charged with trespassing, Geary said, citing the report.

The man must have been released from jail, Geary said, because he was back at LeConte two days later, Feb. 7.

He was found at 2:55 a.m. that Thursday morning asleep at the front doorstep to the college. He told an officer he was waiting for the building to open so he could sleep inside, Geary said.

The man never said he was homeless, but he carried clothes and toiletries with him, indicating his homelessness, Geary said. He was taken into custody a second time.

The assault at the jail occurred four days later, on Feb. 11.

Jailers took the man to a hospital four days later, on Feb. 15, the incident report states.

But the Sheriff’s Department – which has the responsibility to investigate crimes committed on jail property – did not learn of the stomping until Feb. 21, and only when the hospital reported the injuries, Cowan has said.

Richland County government officials are declining to release details, including reports that the inmate had been on suicide watch.

Cowan would not answer that question, saying that is a determination the jail would have made. He referred that question to jail officials, who report to the county administrator – not to Lott.

A jail administrator referred a reporter to the county’s public relations office, which at first said in an email that it would not respond to written, emailed questions because of the ongoing investigation. That office also said answers would come in response to an open-records request that should be filed through the county’s ombudsman’s office.

After being referred to the ombudsman, a county spokeswoman told The State in an email that medical information about the incident likely would be withheld, citing federal law on medical privacy.

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